Sleep apnea is a pervasive sleep disorder that can touch on almost every aspect of your life if it is left untreated. This condition is characterized by repeated times during sleep in which a person is unable to breathe as they should. This may be due to a physical blockage related to a variety of causes, called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) or because the brain does not appropriately trigger the body’s muscles to breathe when sleeping, called Central Sleep Apnea (CSA).
Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Snoring heavily or loudly
- Waking up choking or gasping occasionally
- Daytime fatigue or sleepiness during activity
- Headaches upon waking up
- Sore throat or dry throat when waking up
- Sleepiness while driving
- Mood changes, forgetfulness, decreased libido
A person with sleep apnea often suffers from a reduced amount of oxygen and most people don’t get enough restorative sleep, meaning that they are almost always tire. This condition can cause a myriad of difficulties and disrupt your life with problems such as fatigue, memory loss, headaches, mood swings, obesity, and even other physical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, or diabetes. All of these problems put together can make it very difficult to hold down a regular job and keep up with the day to day activities that are required to keep going on in your life.
Is Sleep Apnea Considered a Disability?
Just as with any other debilitating condition that causes people to seek out disability benefits, sleep apnea as a disability will be considered on a case by case basis. Some people with sleep apnea do quality for disability benefits Proper diagnosis is the first step in determining whether you have sleep apnea. Then, if you are diagnosed as having sleep apnea, there are steps you will need to follow in order to determine if it is severe enough to warrant disability benefits.
Sleep apnea is typically considered to be mild if an adult experiences between only 5 and 14 breathing “episodes” each hour during the night. Moderate sleep apnea is considered to be between 15 and 30 “episodes” per hour. And severe sleep apnea is more than 30 per hour.
Upon your diagnoses of sleep apnea, if you hope to qualify for disability benefits, then your assessment will need to include a determination of residual function capacity (RFC). This will take into consideration the type of disability you have and how much you are able to work (possibly with special accommodation) in spite of your disability symptoms such as fatigue or memory loss. An RFC will also include other conditions you have, whether related to or unrelated to your sleep apnea.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses specific criteria to determine if a person qualifies for benefits. (These evaluation specifics can be found in the ‘Blue Book’ manual.) Many people who apply for disability related to sleep apnea are denied benefits because most jobs could still be kept as sleep apnea is treatable and people can maintain fairly normal lives. In order for a person to quality for SSA benefits in the United States, the symptoms of sleep apnea would need to be extremely severe and prevent the ability to work.
Treatments for Sleep Apnea
The fact that sleep apnea is a treatable condition means that, in most cases, there is hope for returning to a very normal lifestyle. Some of the treatments for sleep apnea include:
Healthier Lifestyle. Because many times sleep apnea is caused by being overweight or obese, one very natural treatment for sleep apnea is eating right, exercising, and living an all-around healthier lifestyle. Weight loss can limit the pressure that gravity puts on the breathing passages in the chest and neck, allowing for the body to breathe more easily during sleep. Other lifestyle changes that can improve sleep apnea symptoms include avoiding drinking alcohol, quitting smoking, and treating nasal congestion, allergies, or other secondary breathing issues.
Breathing Machine. One of the most common treatments for sleep apnea is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. This machine is worn during sleep, forcing the airways to remain open and promoting healthier, easier breathing.
Mattress or Pillow Change. People who sleep on their backs are more likely to struggle with problems associated with sleep apnea. Certain pillows and mattresses can encourage sleeping on the side or stomach, which can significantly reduce the number of respiratory episodes that happen in the night.
Dental Appliance. Some people benefit from the use of a Mandibular Advancement Device (MAD) if their sleep apnea is caused by a recessed bottom jaw or the tongue slipping back to obstruct breathing. This device is worn over the teeth during sleep, holding the tongue forward and attempting to hold the airways open to reduce snoring and promote healthy breathing during sleep. Your sleep specialist may refer you to a dentist who can fit a custom device for you.
When Is Sleep Apnea Considered a Disability?
If your sleep apnea, or underlying condition, is so severe that treatments don’t improve your lifestyle and ability to work, then you may qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.
For instance, if you have mood disturbances that are so severe that you are limited in your social interactions, then this may be a factor in allowing you to qualify. Or if your memory loss is so severe that you no longer have the mental capacity to do your job, you may qualify for benefits. A related problem that might qualify for disability assistance could be congestive heart failure, often caused by sleep apnea, which keeps you from functioning physically at a level that allows you to keep a regular job.
Certain impairments related to sleep apnea which can qualify a person for disability assistance include chronic heart failure, chronic pulmonary hypertension, and cognitive or behavioral issues (organic mental disorders). Some people benefit from hiring an attorney to help them make the most of the complicated issues related to SSA claims.
If you have sleep apnea and other related conditions, there is a possibility that you will qualify for disability benefits or assistance. Working very carefully and closely with your physician and/or sleep specialist to document your symptoms, responses to treatment, and continued problems related to sleep apnea will give you the best chance at finding the help you need.